Tuesday, there was a bit of excitement at the Courthouse where I work. At that courthouse stands a monument to the “Talbot Boys,” those citizens who fought for the Confederacy during the Civil War. Also at that Courthouse stands a statue of Frederick Douglass, who was a native son of Talbot County as a slave. An interesting dichotomy, to say the least. Several citizens, as well as the local chapter of the NAACP and the ACLU held a rally to protest the statue honoring the Confederate soldiers, requesting that the County Council vote to take down the statue or move it off the Courthouse grounds. At the same time, several other people milled about it. Many of them were in favor of keeping the statue where it is, some of them descendants of the people named on the statue. The Council had previously voted to keep the statue in place in a closed session, but that vote was found to be in violation of the State of Maryland’s Open Meetings Act. So the Council voted again, and again they decided that the statue remain in place.
As a black man, I suppose I should feel a certain way about a statue that honored soldiers that fought for a cause that supported the enslavement of my ancestors. I suppose I should feel a certain way about that statue being erected at the Courthouse, where the some of the county government (and state government) business is conducted. I suppose I should feel that because the ideology that was espoused by the Confederacy tended toward hate and bigotry, and that the location of the statue was once a slave market should also hold some sway as to whether or not I think it should be moved or come down.
Truly though, I am ambivalent about the whole thing.
The statue to me is a symbol of a history long gone. That era cannot be erased off the books. If the statue comes down, the history remains, but the symbol is gone. The ideology, still espoused by some even today, remains. Donald Trump, who can’t seem to help but say something racist almost every day, seems to not know or care about that history. I would be more impressed if we had a conversation about changing the hearts and minds of those who think in those terms, rather than the statue being removed.
It’s people that need to be moved. People. Not inanimate objects.
But I get the argument, and on a certain level, I agree with it. I also understand why the descendants would want the statue to remain where it is. But I don’t feel strongly enough either way. For me, as I go to work every day, it’s just there. Same as the Frederick Douglass statue. No statue has ever denied me a civil right. The people who feel the way people felt back in 1861 in the South might have, had they been in a position to do so. Much like Dylan Roof, the man who killed several black people in a church last year. That incident started the wave that caused the Confederate flag to be taken down in several places. Even so, his kind of thinking still remains.
I keep saying we need to have a real conversation about issues of race, but then we’d all have to come to the table and admit our prejudices—and that would make all of us uncomfortable. Yet it’s the only way to solve the age-old problem that symbols like the Talbot Boys bring to the forefront. Maybe one day, that conversation takes place. But I’m betting it won’t happen any time soon.
Besides, we can just remove statues. Maybe that will make us feel better.